By Matthew Sturdevant

Looking at boats, reading reviews and getting advice from trusted paddlers doesn't match going for a test ride.My friend, Travis Young, a hospital emergency-room physician assistant, wanted a standup paddleboard for a slower pace on his days off. I was looking for a creek boat. We both wanted a chance to paddle around on a few different options before buying, which made the five-hour drive from Connecticut to Old Forge, N.Y., well worth the time. We were able to hop into a bunch of boats—all in one place, all in a morning and afternoon.

Photo Bill Reynolds

Steady sunshine, temperatures in the low-80s and a welcome crew of company sales reps greeted just under 3,000 people to the 14th annual Adirondack Paddlefest on the weekend of May 18-20. A first-ever photo contest drew more than 170 entries, with prizes given out in 10 categories. And about 800 people paid $20 to test out hundreds of SUPs, kayaks and canoes on the municipal beach in the tiny resort town of Old Forge, where mid-20th-century building architecture and big, roadside-attraction signs have seemingly frozen the town in time.

I hadn't stopped and spent time in Old Forge since 1988 to launch a six-day canoe trip with my Boy Scout troop. Not much has changed, save for the opening and mammoth growth of Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company into a six-acre campus of boats, bikes, rentals and other gear.

At Paddlefest, most people were in the market for recreational kayaks, sit-on-top boats and paddleboards, though touring kayaks and canoes got plenty of time on the water, too.

Photo Bill Reynolds

"This is more or less a rec/touring event – and wilderness canoes," said Mountainman Outdoor owner and event organizer John Nemjo.

Steve and Becky Gales were looking at boats with their 13-year-old son, Jeremy. They drove three hours from their home in Hancock, N.Y., on the Pennsylvania border, for their third Paddlefest.

"We have a great big pond," Becky said, adding that the grandchildren keep the boats on the water frequently. So, they have an Ocean Kayak sit-on-top Big Game Prowler, a Wilderness Systems Commander, Wilderness Systems Ripper, a Bell Rockstar solo canoe and a Native Elite. Yet, they were happily looking for another boat to add to the collection.

"One kayak won't do everything," Steve said.

"We had to build a shed out back for all the boats," Becky said.

Steve didn't miss a beat, "We'll be happy when we get a dozen."

Photo Bill Reynolds

Julie Price and William Bertolini took time off from their retail jobs and drove to Paddlefest from their hometown, Blacksburg, Va. They split the drive into two days and spent the night with Bertolini's mother in Greeley, Pa.

"I've been coming up here for years," William said. He has family who live near by in Thendara, N.Y.
Julie added, "I've been wanting to come up here."

It wasn't long into the morning by the time she bought a Feel Free Move sit-on-top kayak.

Photo Bill Reynolds